Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Candidates bicker, sidestep issues at SGA forum

By Chelsea Boozer
Via The Daily Helmsman
Though Thursday night's Student Government Association candidate forum was not a debate between candidates, presidential candidates Hunter Lang and Tyler DeWitt made it seem like one.

Photo by Aaron Turner/ The Daily Helmsman
SGA presidential candidate Tyler DeWitt (right), of the United Students party, squares off against FACE party opponents Courtney Milton and Hunter Lang at the SGA Debate in the River Room of the University Center on Monday night.

Each slighted his opponent in a prepared speech, creating something of an answer-and-rebuttal format that elicited strong words, emotional responses and bickering from each candidat e. At several points, the candidates failed to answer the questionx offered to them in favor of lashing out at each other.
The first question asked to current SGA President Lang, running for reelection under the Finding Answers Concerning Everyone party, and DeWitt, running under the United Students party, pertained to how, if elected, they would prove that they earn the presidential stipend of full in-state tuition.
DeWitt, current senator of the college of business and economics, said though he believes the SGA president deserves the stipend because of the demands of the position, the job is a service opportunity and a president-elect receiving an excess of scholarship money should refuse it.
He said the stipend money shouldn't be disposable income for "paying for rent on your house or paying for your SGA campaign for the next year."
In a Daily Helmsman article earlier in the semester, DeWitt said he would give the stipend to The University of Memphis Scholarship Fund, if elected, and challenged Lang to expose his scholarship amount.

Lang then stepped to the microphone, his face flushed, and strongly stated that he doesn't receive a surplus in scholarship funds because he pays out of state tuition.

"All right, look. This is a full-time job," Lang said. "I think it inappropriate for my opponent to be digging so far into my finances and challenging me in The Helmsman and right now to share my scholarship information. I have two full in-state tuitions one from (U of M musical group) Sound Fuzion and one from SGA. Those two scholarships do not cover what it costs for me to go to school here. Trust me when I say, ‘I still pay a pretty penny to stand in front of you tonight.'"
Lang continued, saying that he is glad DeWitt doesn't have to accept the scholarship and that his family can get him through school without it.
 "However, my father falls into the same category as several million other American families and has been out of work for the past four to five years," Lang said as several people in the crowd of nearly 100 began to cheer for him. "As an out-of-state student, my family cannot afford to get me through college. I am working through this myself."
DeWitt replied to Lang's allegation in his next response, teary-eyed and his voice occasionally cracking.

"I'm very offended by the comments that were just made. My father passed away when I was 17 years old. I have a single mother and two younger brothers that I have to care for, and for someone to make an attack so irresponsible to my character — when I'm talking about accepting a scholarship beyond what tuition cost. And honestly, I demand an apology for that. That is personal business and you offended my family," DeWitt said.
Both candidates also told the audience about what they've already accomplished within SGA. Lang cited a list of achievements that included implementing the USA Today Readership program, students being refunded the remaining balance of their dining dollars and vying for the student seats at men's basketball games that the athletic department considered cutting.

DeWitt said he has been working to make the HOPE lottery scholarship available for use in summer terms as well as worked to reform SGA through its bylaws.

"That is something we are directly working on outside of SGA," DeWitt said. "I can sit here and give a laundry list of every single bill we've passed, but let's talk about the big issues — things that require a lot of work."
Vice presidential candidates addressed what they would do if elected into SGA.
Dewitt's running mate Rachel Goodwin said, if elected, she will focus on increasing accountability in SGA. She mentioned that agendas and bills passed in SGA have not been updated on their website since November 11.
Courtney Milton, Lang's vice presidential candidate, said she will focus on increasing campus safety if elected, and noted that she has written a bill that has brought more recycle zones to campus.
Each of them also commented on how they would increase SGA's transparency.
"I feel that is already being put into action. Students can now log onto the website and see the bills that are passed and see the minutes of the meeting, " Milton said.
But, she added she would increase SGA's programming and advertisement to let students know what the members of SGA do.
Goodwin said the budget should be displayed on the website, which needs a makeover itself.
"If you look at it right now, there are only a few general lines. It is not really specific to what the money is going toward," Goodwin said.
She said DeWitt and herself will work to make the budget "easier to read for the students" and will survey students monthly to aggregate what the student body wants from SGA.
Ben Giannini, running for senator of college of arts and sciences under the FACE party, said if elected he will focus on improving the communication between the CCFA dean and the student body and alumni.
US party candidate Victoria Busse, running for the same position, said she would propose that professors take an English proficiency test to ensure they are fluent enough in English to teach because some professors are hard to understand due to their accents. She also wants The University to fumigate Clement Hall so its wasp infestation issue is eliminated and make the desks larger in Dunn Hall.
Several other senators mentioned that they want to improve safety around fraternity housing.

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